There’s a temptation to sugarcoat things, but I’ll tell you the truth. Caring for a special needs kid isn’t easy.
In fact, when Katie was born I was totally unprepared. In the space of a day, our vision of the future was radically altered.
Those first few weeks were painful, chaotic, confusing. Looking back, I’m not particularly proud of how I coped. The truth is that at one point Michelle took Katie and went to live with her parents.
I understand why now. She needed the time to bond, and to adjust to the challenging new reality. To just sit in a chair holding Katie without being distracted by anything else.
And I needed time as well. This was during the great recession, and to make ends meet I took a $10 an hour job washing windows. The days were long, and by the end of the day I was exhausted. But the exhaustion was a kind of gift.
Eventually, I developed a routine. Go to work. Come home. For dinner I’d have a hamburger on two pieces of rye bread, with ketchup, and nothing else. Somehow the sheer monotony of the routine grounded me and let me look forward.
I think we were both struggling to adjust. In the beginning, that struggle split us apart. But eventually, when she was ready, Michelle called and we talked. As the days passed we talked more—long telephone conversations, often for hours at a time. Gradually we put ourselves back together. Michelle came home. Life went on. We discovered all the joy that lay waiting for us, and which we couldn’t possibly have foreseen.
It wasn’t the last time we struggled. The fact is, there are limited resources in every marriage. And when your child has special needs there are even fewer resources than usual. One of the biggest challenges is finding ways to save time for each other and stay connected.
Most people don’t. Back when we were still making Kate’s shake in a blender I ran across a shocking statistic. Of couples with special needs children, fully 84 percent end up divorced. Those are long odds—and part of why we started the Kate Laver Foundation, to help support families with special needs children. Because if the family’s not happy, the child’s not happy.
People sometimes ask how Michelle and I managed to stay together. I credit her, of course. And she credits me. That’s half of the answer right there.
But there’s another reason, which is kind of a secret. An ace I always keep up my sleeve for those times of greatest need.
The secret is just an image: me and Michelle sitting on a front porch somewhere, holding hands and drinking lemonade.
That’s it. That’s where I want to be with her one day. Sitting there in our rocking chairs and looking back on all our memories.
Yes, the odds are long. But this is one thing I’ve learned. When the odds are long you’ve got to play long. Find some distant point on the horizon, and keep your eye fixed on it.
This is the great irony. Sometimes it’s only by looking far that you’re able to see what’s right in front of you—and appreciate it for all it’s worth.
Richard Laver is the father of 11-year-old Kate Laver, whose battle with cerebral palsy inspired the creation of Kate Farms Inc., which manufactures ready-to-drink shakes made with organic plant-based protein.